Why build a great customer experience-if you have no competition?


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What if you didn’t have any competition? Would the customer experience you create even matter–if, for example, you ran a government agency or otherwise had an inherent monopoly? Would you–should you?–trouble yourself to maintain and improve it?

I recently gave a series of keynote speeches and workshops on improving the customer experience and customer service at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), at the request of David Kappos (Undersecretary of Commerce and director of the agency). Mr. Kappos is clearly committed to customer service. And the experience got me thinking.

The Patent Office literally has no competition. I guess you do have a choice, if you want to register an invention or trademark, but that choice comes down to “yes” or “no”: you can either register it, or neglect to do so. The IP-registration field, in other words, is not one that Google or Amazon.com is threatening to encroach on.

And yet, the USPTO is highly committed to customer service. In fact, I’ve rarely met more customer-committed people in the course of giving speeches and researching my books. They daily belie the stereotype of government agencies which has been used as a popular whipping boy for politicians since the early days of the Reagan administration.

Why are they committed? Well, while competition is an important reason to continue to develop and improve the customer experience at your organization, there are others. Here are just three:

  1. An arrogant, anti-customer attitude may, ultimately, breed competition. Look at how the one-time monopolistic cable companies allowed their anti-customer attitudes to feed the growth of the fledgling satellite industry.
  2. Often, doing things better for your customers also works better for you. When an industry leader like Amazon.com declines to sell me a 2nd copy of the same ebook, even though I accidentally tried to pay for it twice, they’re helping me, the customer out, but they’re also avoiding a very likely return and other related manpower and accounting costs. When an organization designs its systems to address “stupid stuff” calls (the contacts customers don’t want to have to make, for information that should be readily available online), it is similarly saving time and money for all involved.
  3. Doing great work is a lot less strain on your people than doing crummy work. And leads to greater productivity, less absenteeism and turnover, and reduced retention costs. To come into work every morning determined to do your best work, and yet find yourself stymied by a culture, systems, and leadership which aren’t interested in your best work is deadening.

I could keep going. But the reality, of course, is that this is academic for the vast majority of us. We all have competition. Usually just a click away. And the only solution is creating a great customer experience. Just don’t confuse yourself by thinking competition is the only reason.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Micah Solomon
Micah Solomon is a customer service consultant and trainer who works with companies to transform their level of customer service and customer experience. The author of five books, his expertise has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, NBC and ABC television programming, and elsewhere. "Micah Solomon conveys an up-to-the minute and deeply practical take on customer service, business success, and the twin importance of people and technology." –Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder.


  1. …and, as you point out, that’s a good thing. We’re seeing evidence of this at the federal, state, and local level. Existance of direct competition notwithstanding, more progressive agency directors and managers have come to understand that creating a positive experience helps with other government initiatives. From my perspective, one doesn’t have to look much farther than national, state, and local handling of Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath, in what we have witnessed thusfar, compared to that of Hurricane Katrina. The effective managing of the emotional and physical elements of people’s expectations can serve as something of a template for future such events. I’ve addressed some of this in my recent CustomerThink blog: http://www.customerthink.com/blog/creating_advocacy_and_building_relationships_throughout_the_customer_journey_branding_the_exper

  2. Micah,

    While I agree with each of your points, #2 stands out.
    One of the biggest advantages I’ve “experienced” as a customer of a competitor-free service provider (my local Bureau of Motor Vehicles) is that when I’m taken care of completely up front, I have no need to go back with more questions and requests.

    In other words, when the Bureau of Motor Vehicles makes my life easy by fully taking care of me, they’re also making their own lives easier by reducing the number of call-backs, and situations requiring re-work.

    A positive customer experience goes deeper than the experience itself – it ties directly to efficiency and productivity.

    Thanks Micah,
    Jim Watson
    Portland, Maine

  3. ….if they had taken my lemon Tastypies. All of us Delaware Valley residents get withdrawal if deprived of our Tastykakes, soft pretzels, and cheesesteaks.

  4. As an interested stakeholder in government service (a taxpayer), I hope you are right. The challenge is uphill all the way.

    As a monopoly, they have little incentive to deliver customer service. Here's what's missing:

    1. Competition – As you say. But this is just the start…
    2. Culture of Change – Monopolies encourage inertia, not innovation.
    3. Accountability – If no one is accountable, who will sponsor and drive the change?
    4. Extrinsic Rewards

    More here… http://bit.ly/aqHNxG

  5. Micah I agree 100% on your first and third reasons for government addressing customer experience, etc within situations where there is no competition, BUT, you did make me laugh out loud when you mentioned that one could breed competition.

    It kind of weakens the argument as it pertains to government (and that’s where I tend to specialize when it comes to customer service.

    Perhaps you have never worked in government, or have a sense of legislation that creates these agencies of government, but it’s EXTREMELY unlikely that governments will change the charters and legislation for, let’s say the patent office, or copyright office, etc, and open this up to competition.

    While governments do, on occasion, outsource functions that used to be completely staffed within the public sector, they don’t “breed competition”, no matter how bad the customer experience is. Government doesn’t work that way.

    For those interested, I’ve written some material on why customer service from government is different from that in the private sector at:

  6. The main competition in the political side of government is the desire to be re-elected, or re-appointed if not an elected position.

    That means there’s an incentive to provide good service because if you don’t citizens complain and a new boss is elected/appointed to fix things. Just like in corporations.

    And, government has to make the dollars go as far as possible. Enlightened government leaders realize that bad service = expensive service.

    So, while there may not be a direct competitive threat for, say, getting your driver’s license renewed, there are plenty of good reasons to make the experience flawless, if not delightful.

    And in the case of the Post Office, there are in fact competitive alternatives, such as FedEx and UPS.

    Maybe it’s my imagination, but in my interactions with government employees the past few years, there seems to be a heightened awareness of the need for responsive and even friendly service.

  7. Dear Bob,
    I think your post office example is spot on. And if anyone has a moment to look back at my article, you’ll see my line was not just about government but about other similarly apparently competition-free industries. (One classic example of course is cable, which arguably bred its own competition with its monopolistic attitude.)


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